What is the real cost of the teetotal generation?

If you’ve read anything about the on trade in the last year, you’ll have seen that the younger generation seem to be turning their backs on booze. And it’s not just young people. What with social media crazes; #dryjanuary, #soberoctober and #sobercurious, moving mainstream, we’re all thinking more about what and how much we drink. But what does that really mean for the channel and is it a trend that’s here to stay?

According to ONS, 1 in 5 adults are now teetotal, rising to 2 in 5 of Generation Z. Paired with the increasing cost of alcohol1, the self-awareness of the technology-native generation, and the sheer range of low/no alcohol options now available in the grocery channel, I believe this is a trend that we should be taking seriously.

The hype would have us believe that all youngsters are fitness and health obsessed, and shunning licensed premises in their droves. And yes, many adults, young and old, are looking to reduce their alcohol in-take, but there needs to be a middle ground, where you can accommodate this growing trend, without alienating your core customer. If you’re simply acting on the ‘stats’, then stop and think; ‘what is really right for me and my outlet?’ – as we often tell our clients, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

The focus for any outlet, should be about adding value for your customers and creating an experience, to ensure you are capitalising on emerging trends, while protecting your margin and balancing price and profit.

In fact, the profit opportunity can actually be significant, given the lower duty on low/no alcohol alternatives. In one venue I visited recently a standard cocktail was priced at £10.50, whilst no alcohol alternatives were sold at £6-8. In another, a 330ml bottle of Brewdog Nanny State 0% was actually 20p more expensive than 330ml bottle of Peroni Nastro Azzurro 5.1%!

Just because someone chooses not to drink alcohol, doesn’t mean they don’t want the same intensity of flavour, level of creativity and experience that comes with higher alcohol options, and if they’re paying nearly the same price they need to feel like it is justified. It’s not enough to simply extend your range and put it in the chiller until someone asks for it, you need to make it work for you. Get the staff training in place to guarantee all drinks are delivered with the same care, quality assurance and theatre, and staff are confident to upsell from standard soft drinks where possible.

This is now easier than ever, with an abundance of exciting low-ABV product launches, which when marketed in smart way can actually help to drive overall sales. However, guest feedback hints that terms such as low-ABV or low-proof can actually be a turn-off, so consider different descriptors, for example ‘spritz’, ‘refresher’ or ‘easy drinking’. Also, cocktails using wine and beer as a base, as opposed to sprits, keep costs relatively low, yet are approachable and authentic for those actively reducing their alcohol intake.

Ensure your outlet is an environment in which drinkers, low-drinkers and no-drinkers all feel comfortable. Think about your total offer, and if food is a focus, how can you integrate low & no into this too, from your full menu, as well as sharing and snacking. Create food and drink pairings on menu that incorporate soft drinks and low/no options, as well as wine and beer. Also, introduce activities that will help drive footfall, without necessarily focusing on alcohol – think, board games, book club and art classes.

The on trade certainly has its challenges, and is often first to suffer in the light of any financial/political uncertainty. With fast moving and ever-evolving consumer trends, the key to survival is all about agility, being able to adjust to changing consumer demands to attract additional visitors, but also staying true to your loyal customers and integrating the new with the existing. So, what is the cost of the teetotal generation? Nothing, it just takes imagination.

Rebecca Riches, MD, The Hub

1 According to The Good Pub Guide the average cost of a pint of beer in Britain is now £3.79, up 10p from last year

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